Friday, December 12, 2008

Cruising Day 6: Cozumel, Mexico

We landed in Cozumel with a plan, albeit, we were to learn, not the best laid of plans. We were going to ferry over to Playa del Carmen and catch a tour to the ruins of Tulum. Our research and my guide book had told us that we could probably save quite a bit of money by going on our own as the shore excursion organized by the cruise was pretty spendy. We got an earlier start than other days, but struggled to get to the ferry. Though A and I both speak passable Spanish and understand if people speak slowly enough, I was still overwhelmed to be in a Spanish speaking country for the first time - I wanted to read every sign (A seemed to also want to do this, too as he delightedly read them all aloud to me, first in Spanish, then in English, forgetting that I speak Spanish, too), and talk to everyone in Spanish, though their English was always better than my Spanish.

We did get there in perfect timing, though, right before the next ferry. I slept during the ferry over to Playa (the del Carmen is dropped by the locals) where we found no tours, but a very engaging taxi driver named Javier who was willing to take us to Tulum, wait for us, make another stop for shopping or the beach, wait for us and return us to the ferry in time for $80US. I don't know how that compares to other rates or if I could trust his assurance that the taxi drivers all charge the same amount, but it was still a good savings over the ship's excursion. The ride to Tulum was fast as Javier sped through traffic and weaved around vehicles not moving quickly enough for his liking - he pointed out his favorite hotels and the best places for snorkeling or diving in cenotes - water filled caves.

At Tulum, Javier lent us 100 pesos for our entry fee since we still only had US$. We had a little confusion over that later as my guidebook had a typo on the conversion rate and suggested that 110 pesos was equal to $1US - apparently, it's more like $10 now - I don't know if the US$ has fallen that far that fast, but this was confirmed by all the money changers we saw at both Playa and Cozumel. At any rate, we walked through the ruins which were, well, ruined. I think I would have enjoyed a guide so that I could learn more about the various structures, but we read the posted information and learned what we could. The ruins at Tulum are the only ruins in Mexico that are located on the coast and this makes them both unique and ... distracting. There is a small beach just below the cliffs where Tulum is located a stairway takes visitors down for a swim or sunbathe. The water is amazingly blue-green and clear and the sand is perfectly white. By far, this was the most beautiful beach I'd been on the entire cruise and probably my entire life, so you can imagine it was hard to look at old rocky buildings when the beach was so inviting.

After that, we raced back to Playa where I was too distracted by the possibility of missing our ferry to enjoy shopping. We did manage to grab a gourd lamp before I dragged A back to the ferry. While in line, we realized we were starving, so we ate from the closest food stand: pizza! I know, can you believe we ate pizza in Mexico? Don't get me wrong, pizza is among my favorite of foods, but Mexican definitely is ranked higher, so I was disappointed not to try authentic Mexican food. As I would have been more disappointed to miss our ferry, the last one that would get us back to Cozumel in time to catch the ship, I consoled myself with the promise of a future, longer trip to Mexico in which I would play on the beach and eat authentic Mexican food exclusively.

Back in Cozumel, we had about an hour to wander around and practice our bartering skills. As neither A nor I particularly wanted anything, we just purchased a few necklaces and an icy cold Corona which we sipped on our way back to the ship.

What I Learned:
  1. When long travel and/or meals are a part of the shore excursion package, it may be worth spending a little extra money for a ship's organized shore excursion to avoid the stress and clock-watching needed to do it on your own.
  2. When bartering, the seller can start with a ridiculously high price and expect to be bartered down, but if your counter offer is too low, they won't offer to come down and will instead simply be offended.
  3. Corona should always be drunk ice cold in 80+ degree weather.
  4. You should remember to look up monetary exchange rates before traveling.
  5. Gone are the days when you could only purchase "authentic" local items by traveling to those locations and gone are the days when purchasing something in a market ensured it's authenticity. We saw many of the same trinkets for sale as "authentic, hand carved by my brother" at each of our stops. The things we bought will remind us of our trip, we hope the money we spent will help the local people, but we are not deluded that there is a more unique story behind each item...well, except for the conch that we harvested in Cayman.

My Favorite Part: Our last hour on Cozumel, when all the stress of getting back on time was gone and we were just wandering at our leisure, sipping our Corona. It being the end of the day, most of the shoppers had returned to the ships and most of the sellers were relaxing in the shade, so it was a very peaceful stroll through the colorful buildings and shaded alleyways.

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